Lift with your legs, not your back! Blah, blah, blah. How many times have we heard this or seen the signs? Yet soft tissue injuries and low back pain continue to dominate safety logs. Unfortunately, every time I visit a worksite I see employees lifting with their backs. This is even when everyone knows I’m coming! So, why do employees keep putting themselves at risk?
Every BODY is different.
The key to understanding this behavior is to start looking for barriers to healthy movement patterns. One of the most common barriers to healthy movement is pain avoidance. There are many labor employees out there dealing with some sort of pain. Whether it’s chronic pain or acute pain, pain modifies how we move our bodies. Muscle aches and nerve/ joint pain get in the way of the “lifting with the legs” ideal.
Very often, pain comes before major soft tissue injuries but it’s often ignored. Bringing in a movement professional to catch an employee’s pain early and find the source of it not only helps the individual become more aware of their movement patterns, it can save time and money down the road when it comes to a company’s bottom line.
There are multiple examples of pain avoidance, but this time around let’s focus on the ankle. An old ankle injury that limits the ankle range of motion often ends up using the back more when lifting because the ankle flexibility plays a significant role in the mechanics at the knee during a squat lift.
A proper squat lift takes above average joint range of motion across multiple joints and many muscle functions are involved. Ankle, knee and hip joints work with leg muscles, gluteal muscles, abdominals and spinal muscles to make the process FUNCTIONAL and physically sound. Below is a great video to demonstrate that.
When the body’s compensation patterns limit the movement of the joint, it creates a chain of dysfunction. Limited ankle range of motion may stop the shin bone to floor angle from going beyond 90 degrees. This affects the bend of the knee and the depth of the hips so the body shifts the weight backward. In order to get to the object being lifted, so the torso will need to compensate forward and down. Therefore, the body learns the most efficient, not the most effective, motor pattern.
Yes, the ankle bone is connected to the back bone. Believe it or not, in the example above, increasing ankle range of motion with intervention of corrective exercise and stretches changes the lifting mechanics from the ground up. It is my goal as a movement professional to help labor employees understand their potential for healthy movement patterns, past injuries or not. No longer will dirt and duct tape be an acceptable form of dealing with pain out in the field. It is now time to shift the responsibility to the worker to be aware of their pain and understand what they can do to prevent small problems from becoming debilitating injuries.